Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A "compare and contrast" directive asks that both similarities and differences be pointed out about a certain element in literature or whatever subject is under question. When writing about literature there are two methods of comparing and contrasting: the Block Method and the Point-by-Point Method.

  • Block Method

In the Block Method, the writer takes one work that is being compared to another separately, rather than discussing similarities and differences simultaneously. In other words, one part of the paper is about one work; the other part is on the second work. Here is an example:

Subject 1: Poem A

  • Element 1: theme
  • Element 2: tone
  • Element 3: figures of speech 

Subject 2: Poem B

  • Element 1: theme
  • Element 2: tone
  • Element 3: figures of speech

The other method, the Point-by-Point Method involves making comparisons or contrasts simultaneously. This method demonstrates well analytical skills and is usually preferred by instructors, especially college professors. Here is an example:

  • Element 1:  theme
    Subject 1: Poem A
    Subject 2: Poem B
  • Element 2: tone
    Subject 1: Poem A
    Subject 2: Poem B
  • Element 3: figures of speech
    Subject 1: Poem A
    Subject 2: Poem B

In this Point-by-Point, comparisons are, then, made directly after an element is introduced. For instance, 

While both poems by Emily Dickinson are concerned with the theme of death, this theme is handled differently in "Because I Could not Stop for Death" than it is in "My Life Closed Twice Before Its Close." In the latter poem, there is pain and suffering whereas in the first poem, Death comes as a kindly gentleman to escort her. In lines ---, Dickinson writes,

------------------------- [lines from the poem support the point]

On the other hand, in "My Life Closed Twice," Dickinson writes,

--------------------------- [citation of poem]

The use of transitional words in making comparisons and contrasts are also important as they establish the relationship of the elements being discussed. Here is a list of words that are appropriate as transitions for comparison/contrast essays:

To make a contrast: and yet, but, however, instead, nevertheless, nonetheless, on the contrary, on the other hand, still

To show similarities: similarly, likewise, also, too, in addition, in the same manner, both...and, just does...,furthermore, in the same way, not only....but also

Use the links below for further help


rachellopez | Student

Compare and contrast is when you look at two or more things and find similarities and differences. When looking at literature, you may have to compare and contrast published works, characters, plots, symbols, etc.

For example, if you were asked to compare and contrast the two classic novels To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck you could say the similarities were they were both set in the 1930s, they both involve crimes trying to be solved (in To Kill a Mocking Bird it is a more formal crime case), and a theme leaning towards differences in social classes. Differences would be the settings, one being in Alabama and the other being in California, the relationship between characters, and the tones of the two books (Of Mice and Men being a bit more comical yet tragic).

Wiggin42 | Student

Comparing and contrasting in literature refers to discussing the similarities and differences between two works, characters, etc. When looking for similarities and differences in two works of literature you can analyze tone, mood, diction, syntax, and other style elements. When comparing and contrasting characters you can discuss their personality, motivation, physical characteristics, etc. 

Comparison is the act of taking two things and looking at their similarities, and contrast is basically taking those things and looking at their differences. when teachers usually ask this on an exam, they want to see what you thought the similarities and differences between the works or objects given. 

For example: 

lets say you're asked to compare a table and a chair 

The comparison would be that both table and chair have 4 legs. The contrast would be that tables are usually wider and taller then chairs, chairs don't always have a flat top like most tables, or chairs have a backing and tables don't. 

When doing this with literature, i suggest that you pay attention to the overall writing style of the author usually in these cases things like point of view, which perspective the story is being told from, or the different kinds of rhetoric, or literary devices are more prominent then others etc.. 

robyn-bird96 | Student

Comparing and contrasting is actually redundant.  When you compare something, you are looking at both the similarities and differences  between two "things," in this case different works of literature.

Comparing is one of the most useful skills in writing papers. The question becomes how does one work compare to another in tone, language - both figurative and literal, diction, syntax, content, themes, irony, etc.  

Because mwestwood talked more about the different language elements used in making comparisons and the different methods that follow that, I will focus more on characters.

You can also compare different characters in the same novel, poem, etc. This time, you are looking at how the characters are similar or different. How do they approach similar situations?  How are they characterized?  What is their personality?  How does the author utilize figurative language, diction, syntax, tone, etc. to demonstrate the personalities of the characters?  

For example, in A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, two of the protagonists are the women, Miriam and Leila.  So in an essay comparing the two females, we can make our claim: "Although both Miriam and Leila demonstrate strength and motherhood, Miriam is quiet while Leila is vocal." Then, throughout the following paragraphs, we can use references from the book as examples as to explain why we make this claim.

summerdayz | Student

When you compare and contrast, you take two different subjects and analyze them. While looking at their characteristics, you list down what they both have in common and separately list what is different. These things can be as simple as "one is repetitive and the other isn't" or as complex as "one is found in daily society andbthe other isn't used anymore". 

parama9000 | Student

When you compare, you are generally finding what is similar between the two of them.  When you contrast, you are asked to show only the difference between the two or more objects. Compare can be used for both finding similar or different things, for example, 

-Comparing the price

-Comparing grades

nicole8923 | Student

To compare you simply find what two or more things have in common

When you contrast them, you do the opposite by finding out what their differences are. 

amysor | Student

Comparing and contrasting are two very common analyzation skills in English and Literature. Comparing is taking two or more things and analyzing which is similar. While contrasting is the opposite, where you take two or more things, and state the differences. This is a good skill when reading, you can compare and contrast two characters, or two novels, etc. It helps you achieve a more comprehensive knowledge of the text. It also shows a level of understanding when you are writing.

itsrainingmuffins | Student

Comparing and contrasting is naming how things are the same (comparing) and how they are different (contrasting).